First Sunday of Lent, March 1, 2009
by Cathy Whitlatch
In Mark's account of Jesus' baptism, Jesus "saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.'" God poured God's self through the torn heavens--identifying Jesus as God's own.
Mark does not mention if anyone else saw the heavens open, but makes it clear that Jesus knew God's claim. The awesome responsibility that came with this declaration must have been unsettling, for the Spirit drove Jesus to the wilderness. There Jesus struggled with living faithfully in a world that offers so many ungodly choices.
One Sunday she could no longer contain herself and broke down crying. With all eyes fixed upon her, Maria explained how she wanted to take communion, but that she was not worthy. She continued explaining that she had committed many sins. She wept as she told how sorry she was that she had been so bad; that she had made many poor choices that were contrary to God's plan of love and salvation.
Through her repentance she was led to claim her identity as a child of God, worthy of God's love, grace, and spirit. Her life did not instantly become easy. She was tempted to return to her former ways of dealing with loneliness. However, as her faith grew she became more capable of resisting. She participated in Bible studies and invited others to read and study with her.
I also remember working with grade-school children in a poor barrio in Argentina. At a very young age, these children had been exposed to drug dealers, violent crimes, and extreme poverty. There was confusion. Through a Christian Education program, these children found spaces to talk safely about their lives and to hear how precious they were in God's sight. The church, self-declared as a violence-free zone, modeled alternative behaviors.
I'll never forget how Celeste, usually very serious, giggled as she shared with her teachers and sang songs of God's love. The church became a place in which God's spirit was present in these children's lives. Celeste grew up to be one of the teachers in the Christian Education program in that barrio.
God poured through the torn skies to claim Jesus; God poured through Maria's brokenness to affirm her; God poured through the brokenness in the barrio to surround Celeste; and God pours through our brokenness to claim us. The wilderness will not be easy, but neither will we walk alone; for the heavens were torn apart, and God's love pours over us.
Rev. Cathy Whitlatch is presently serving as the Missionary Interpreter in Residence for the Western Jurisdiction. Previously she has served as a missionary in Argentina, a missionary with the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministries, and as a pastor in the Iowa Annual Conference.
Date posted: Mar 01, 2009